A sensory neuron-expressed IL-31 receptor mediates T helper cell-dependent itch: Involvement of TRPV1 and TRPA1

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Background Although the cytokine IL-31 has been implicated in inflammatory and lymphoma-associated itch, the cellular basis for its pruritic action is yet unclear. Objective We sought to determine whether immune cell-derived IL-31 directly stimulates sensory neurons and to identify the molecular basis of IL-31-induced itch. Methods We used immunohistochemistry and quantitative real-time PCR to determine IL-31 expression levels in mice and human subjects. Immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence, quantitative real-time PCR, in vivo pharmacology, Western blotting, single-cell calcium imaging, and electrophysiology were used to examine the distribution, functionality, and cellular basis of the neuronal IL-31 receptor α in mice and human subjects. Results Among all immune and resident skin cells examined, IL-31 was predominantly produced by TH2 and, to a significantly lesser extent, mature dendritic cells. Cutaneous and intrathecal injections of IL-31 evoked intense itch, and its concentrations increased significantly in murine atopy-like dermatitis skin. Both human and mouse dorsal root ganglia neurons express IL-31RA, largely in neurons that coexpress transient receptor potential cation channel vanilloid subtype 1 (TRPV1). IL-31-induced itch was significantly reduced in TRPV1-deficient and transient receptor channel potential cation channel ankyrin subtype 1 (TRPA1)-deficient mice but not in c-kit or proteinase-activated receptor 2 mice. In cultured primary sensory neurons IL-31 triggered Ca2+ release and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 phosphorylation, inhibition of which blocked IL-31 signaling in vitro and reduced IL-31-induced scratching in vivo. Conclusion IL-31RA is a functional receptor expressed by a small subpopulation of IL-31RA+/TRPV1 +/TRPA1+ neurons and is a critical neuroimmune link between TH2 cells and sensory nerves for the generation of T cell-mediated itch. Thus targeting neuronal IL-31RA might be effective in the management of TH2-mediated itch, including atopic dermatitis and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. © 2013 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.




Cevikbas, F., Wang, X., Akiyama, T., Kempkes, C., Savinko, T., Antal, A., … Steinhoff, M. (2014). A sensory neuron-expressed IL-31 receptor mediates T helper cell-dependent itch: Involvement of TRPV1 and TRPA1. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 133(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2013.10.048

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